The name of Steven Binder, general counsel for the District's Department of Transportation, was incorrectly spelled in an article about jaywalkers that appeared in yesterday's editions.
Jaywalkers in the District, targets of a tough, two-year police drive to keep them in the crosswalks, will soon be able to cross the street anywhere they please because of a legal loophole.
Pedestrians who cross streets illegally -- more than 21,000 were slapped with tickets last year -- will still be ticketed, but on Monday those citations will no longer be for criminal offenses handled by the D.C. Superior Court, which can now order a jaywalking scofflaw to jail. Jaywalking fines will instead be collected, like parking tickets, through the city Department of Transportation.
But police and DOT officials reluctantly admitted yesterday that the legislation to enforce the change is flawed; Since jaywalking will no longer be a criminal act, police will not be able to require pedestrian violators to give their true names.Even if police suspect they've been given a wrong name, they won't be able to arrest anyone because of it.
"That could be a problem," said Steven Bender, DOT legal counsel. He added that the administrative fines are "basically, ultimately unenforceable."
And, unlike parking tickets, which can result in a scofflaw being refused a new license tag or getting his car booted or towed, the city's DOT has no way to keep track of unpaid pedestrian tickets because pedestrians can't be forced to reveal their true identity.
"We can't boot pedestrians," Bender said.
It could take months for the City Council to enact the legislation DOT is proposing to require alleged jaywalkers to accurately identify themselves or be subject to arrest. Bender said he did not believe the gap in enforcement merited emergency legislation that could take effect within a few days. Most people will pay the tickets, he said.
The decriminalization follows months of meetings between DOT and police officials who expressed reservations about the effects on traffic disruption and pedestrian safety.
Bender said DOT went ahead with decriminalization of pedestrian laws because it is the last phase of its implementation of the 1979 Traffic Adjudication Act, which decriminalized most traffic and parking violations. "It wasn't right" to categorize pedestrians as "criminals" while treating most other traffic violations administratively, Bender said.
Police will continue to ticket pedestrians, but DOT will collect the fines and hold hearings for people who feel they were unfairly ticketed.
"It's kind of silly to have things in place and not have enforceability," said Richard Brooks, deputy policy counsel. "I just caution you that it is not worth alerting the public . . . you may encourage the public to create havoc."
Brooks said a two-year police enforcement program has cut pedestrian injuries. Last year, 16 pedestrians were killed, compared to an average of about 30 a year before that. "One of the concerns we have is more people being hit by autos," Brooks said.
D.C. police Capt. Wayne Layfield, head of the department's traffic branch, said he expected the enforcement change will go unnoticed.
"We have always been very liberal on these tickets," Layfield said. "The majority of the people are cooperative with us. We expect very little problem. I look for us to write about 20,000 to 25,000 tickets, the average for the last three years." In the first two months of the year, 3,000 tickets were issued.
"Let's face it," Layfield said. "The ticket is a five dollar ticket, most people pay it. It's not us charging them five dollars, it's alerting them to the danger of jaywalking. That's our job. They are usually cooperative. Angry, but cooperative."